It’s official: According to The Weather Channel, Portland’s winter has been “the most miserable” in the nation. The nearly complete shutdown of our city has been tough for many people. For small business owners, the lack of accessibility has led to some very lonely days.
Roads covered in ice and snow (and now slush) have led to a lack of stock on the shelves and — most importantly — a lack of customers coming through the doors.
Bikes shops are run on passion not profits and these storms added insult to injury because December and January are already the toughest months to survive.
Here’s what several local bike shop owners had to say when asked about how the weather has impacted their business:
Kelly Aicher, GM and Co-Owner of The Bike Gallery (six locations throughout the region)
Each store has been affected differently.
“Each store has been affected differently. The stores that have greater access difficulty due to side streets or parking lot issues have been affected more. Employee safety has been our number one consideration when making the decision to stay open or to close each store. Some employees may live across town from the store they work at, and it has been a challenge for some to make it in severe weather. Whenever possible, we tried our best to be open, albeit with an abbreviated staff. This weather is especially tough on employees, since hours are cut back when we are closed. I think we were closed a total of 3 days in the past several weeks due to the weather. It has certainly not helped business.
The weather has also made our move to our new Westmoreland location difficult, as certain services/ contractors are delayed, and getting things moved has been difficult. We still plan on being open and functional by the 22nd.”
Tim Wesolowski, Assistant Manager of 21st Avenue Bicycles (916 NW 21st Avenue)
Sales are always slow this time of year, but weather like this can (and has) really cut our already low volume.
“We’ve definitely felt the weather’s effects over the last week. The shop was closed Wednesday due to the snow accumulation, and closed 3-4 hours early Thursday and Friday because of a lack of customers (and we certainly don’t blame people for staying indoors!). We stayed open all day Saturday, and people were definitely out and about more than I expected – I think folks were tired of being cooped up at home and eager to get out and least do some window shopping/tire kicking.
Most of us live here in NW, but one employee who lives in NE faced a couple challenges: longer, more dangerous bike commutes due to icy conditions, and a very delayed bus connection made her late once. Sales are always slow this time of year, but weather like this can (and has) really cut our already low volume.
We’ve had great response to our social media posts about weather and closures. We used our Instagram and Facebook to let everyone know if and when we were open. Our customers have been very understanding about delays in special orders (we didn’t receive our regular Wednesday delivery until Friday) or repairs.”
John Bennett, owner of Rivelo (401 SE Caruthers St)
Making rent this month is going to be a stretch.
“Yes, it’s been a pretty dreadful week. We’re open Thursday through Monday, so we missed the first Snow Day last Wednesday. Our customer count for the week: Thursday: O. Friday: 2. Saturday: 4. Sunday: 0. Monday: 1. These were some of our most loyal customers who made a point of coming in to drop a little dough. Greatly appreciated.
This most recent storm, coming on the heels of the other snow and ice starting mid-December, is making for a tough go, financially. We’re fortunate that we don’t have to sweat payroll or worry how shortened hours will affect staff, since we don’t have employees, but even making rent this month is going to be a stretch.”
Erik Tonkin, owner of Sellwood Cycle Repair (7953 SE 13th Ave)
I’m fortunate that so many of my co-workers live close by, so getting to work has been very doable for us.
“It’s funny, but today (Tuesday, 1/17) has been steady — if not truly busy. Overall, last week was slow — I’d expected Friday and Saturday to be relatively busy because we were closed Wednesday and Thursday, but it was rather quiet.
I keep all staff year-round, so we’ve had the extra time and people power to make real progress in our shop inventory re-organization. This will be a record January for us — in retail futility, that is!
The hardest thing for me has been juggling work demands with school closures. I’ve been less than perfect…
The real winter, and the snow and ice riding, have been a fun change of pace. Beautiful weather and landscape, really. It feels special. And the weather conditions have proven how truly effective walking is for getting around! The riding has been tough, but rewarding too! And I’m reminded how useful it is to live close to where you work, if possible. I’m fortunate that so many of my co-workers live close by, so getting to work has been very doable for us. I know that’s just not the case for so many. I was able to give the crew at least two fully paid snow days, which was fun.”
Lou Doctor, owner of Western Bikeworks (1015 NW 17th Ave)
We’ve had a record year for studded snow tires…and base layers!
“We’ve closed the stores for several days this winter (so far!) and had a few delayed openings and early closings. We’ve been trying to keep employee safety first when making those decisions but I’m sure some of our neighborhood customers have been inconvenienced by it. Fortunately, it’s a very slow time of year so while it may have an adverse affect on the month of January, we expect it won’t have much impact on the full year. On the plus side, we’ve had a record year for studded snow tires, arm & leg warmers, and base layers!”
Joe Doebele, owner of Joe Bike (2039 SE Cesar Chavez Blvd)
I think we’re going to be slammed when this melts.
“We stayed open all but 1 day, and bigger-ticket business (some of our best bikes, custom builds, etc.) has been surprisingly strong through it all. Part of this is because we have customers all over the country, but much of it has been local too. We actually had to add back staff starting yesterday. On one of the worst weather days, we posted a flash snow-day sale–20% off on any bike–on Twitter and Instagram and, no exaggeration, within 10 minutes someone came in and ordered a Soma Wolverine custom build. But service and accessory sales are way way down, as you’d expect.
All in all, it’s been kind of amazing. I think we’re going to be slammed when this melts.”
Barb Grover, co-owner of Splendid Cycles (407 SE Ivon St)
I hope you’ll encourage readers to think about the businesses they appreciate and reach out by patronizing that business with whatever purchasing power they have.
“There’s no doubt that the weather has slowed business and made it challenging for staff to get to work.
We only closed a couple of days as we were able to get in as were most of our staff. One employee lives in North Portland and with about 10 miles each way he has not been able to get to work as much as he would have liked. I know missing work creates financial challenges for him and that’s a worry.
Since test rides are nearly impossible on icy streets we’ve had few local customers. So, holiday sales were down as well as January to date. We’re fortunate that we have some customers seeking our products from regions not impacted by winter weather. With those sales we’ve been able to keep our full-time staff working.
But the weather combined with shifts in buying habits, that we’ve noticed since the election, means that our sales were pretty flat the last few months. We aren’t sure how consumers will continue to respond to the new president, so we continue to be conservative in our planning for the upcoming season. And this weather is definitely compounding that situation.
In observing all of the above, I’ve been worried about many of Portland’s small businesses, not just bike shops. For example, I think of my favorite juice/coffee shop in Hollywood. Anyway, I hope you’ll encourage readers to think about the businesses they appreciate and reach out by patronizing that business with whatever purchasing power they have.”